Apple comes clean on poisoning of Chinese supplier's employees
"In 2010, we learned that in Apple's supplier Wintek Suzhou's plant, 137 workers' health was adversely affected due to their exposure to a hexane environment...We asked Wintek to stop using hexane, and provided evidence to prove that the chemical has been removed from the production line and also asked them to restore the ventilation system. Since taking the above measures, no workers were damaged due to exposure to the chemical," the report states.
In 2008 the Suzhou subsidiary of Taiwan's Wintek Group, started using n-hexane instead of the alcohol-based cleaner previously used on the production line. Hexane is more volatile than conventional alcohol-based cleaning agents, enabling faster cleaning of components. Prolonged exposure to the chemical leads to peripheral neuropathy, numbness of the limbs, and impedes movement and the sense of touch.
Workers started falling ill in 2009 and in August of that year the Suzhou No.5 People's Hospital revealed Wintek 49 employees that had been treated for n-hexane poisoning. The story broke in the Chinese media February 2010 when CCTV carried a report and in May last year a group of Wintek Suzhou employees were reported to have planned a lawsuit against Apple. Health, environmental and labor rights problems among Apple's Chinese contractors and subcontractors received wide international media coverage following the publication of a highly critical investigative report by Green Choice Alliance, a collation of NGOs, in January. At the time Apple rejected the claims made in the report.
In its new supplier responsibility report Apple says that all affected employees have been successfully treated: "We will continue to check the medical records of the workers until they have fully recovered. Wintek has paid the medical expenses and board wages and also reissued the wages in accordance with the requirements of Chinese law. Among the 137 workers, most of them have returned to working in the factory. "
However, reporters have learned some of the employees are being pressured to leave the company and were told "they cannot get compensation if they do not leave the company."
"I got a call last week from the company asking me to leave. They promised to give me RMB140,000 (USD21,253) in compensation for my departure, but only on condition that I sign an exemption agreement, which means the company would not take any responsibility if my health worsened in the future," he said.